Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Autistic boy, 5, dies after disputed therapy

Autistic boy, 5, dies after disputed therapy

By Michael Hasch
Thursday, August 25, 2005

A 5-year-old autistic boy died after undergoing a controversial medical treatment in a Butler County doctor's office.

Abubakar Nadama, of Monroeville, died at 11:48 a.m. Tuesday at Butler Memorial Hospital after being treated by Dr. Roy E. Kerry at the Advanced Integrative Medicine Center in Portersville.

Nadama went into cardiac arrest while he was receiving his third treatment of chelation therapy, Butler County Deputy Coroner Larry Barr said Wednesday.

Chelation therapy involves the repeated administration of a synthetic amino acid known as EDTA -- ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid -- which, according to supporters of the practice, removes atherosclerotic plaque and other mineral deposits from the cardiovascular system.

"There are those in the alternative medical field who feel that mercury and other toxic elements do contribute to autistic disorder, and that their removal would be a pathway to reducing autism," said Dr. Jonathan Collin, a practitioner of alternative medicine in Washington state.

"Chelation for autism is a fraud," said Stephen Barrett, a retired Lehigh County psychiatrist and founder of the Quackwatch Web site. "Many doctors who treat children for autism claim they are suffering from mercury or lead toxicity. There is no sufficient evidence that autism is caused by mercury or lead toxicity."

When Nadama went into cardiac arrest, those in the office immediately began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which was continued when paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

Barr said Kerry told him that he was administering the treatment to remove lead and mercury from Nadama's body.

"From my conversation with them, he had some kind of lead in his system, and they also said his system contained mercury," Barr said.

An autopsy yesterday was inconclusive and more tests will be needed to determine exactly how Nadama died, Barr said. "It'll probably be a month or two months before you know anything," he said.

Barr said state police are investigating the death.

Kerry, who also has an office in Greenville, Mercer County, did not return telephone calls yesterday. A woman who answered the phone in the Portersville office said nobody could comment because of patient confidentiality laws.

Nadama's family members told WTAE-TV that they have no comment at this time.

The Advanced Integrative Medicine Center's Web site states that it has been providing medical advice and treatment, including chelation therapy, for more than 30 years.

The site also says it provides a full range of allergy therapy, nutritional counseling, advanced techniques in hormone therapy, massage therapy, and the latest advances in diagnosing and treating illness.

Kerry was one of the contributors to a study and subsequent article titled "Beneficial Effects of Enzyme-Based Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders," which appeared in the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients magazine.

"Parents should be clear that when considering any experimental medical treatment for a child, we are placing that child at risk," the study states.

Collin, who is the editor and publisher of the magazine, admits chelation therapy "is a controversial topic. It is something that is accepted in the alternative medicine camp but admittedly not by the American Medical Association or the Pediatric Association."

Barrett, who lives in Allentown, Lehigh County, is blunt in his criticism of chelation therapy.

"Basically, chelation has nothing to offer," he said. "The treatment is worthless and has some potential danger. Here is a case that demonstrates that.

"I'll bet you that every parent with an autistic child is going to hear about this case. This is a very serious matter. I think it is going to have a tremendous impact on the autism community."

Both Barrett and Collin said this is the first time they have heard of an autistic child dying after undergoing chelation therapy.

Barrett, who said he suspects there have been other cases that were never reported, also questions the tests that show a preponderance of lead and mercury in the bloodstream of a child.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved chelation as a treatment for lead poisoning.

"There is a little bit of mercury in fish and little bits of heavy metal here and there (in the body) that is of no consequence," Barrett said.

"It's very unlikely that the child had lead poisoning ... unless the child was eating paint. Generally, the tests that are administered are bogus," Barrett said.

Collin said he uses chelation therapy on adults. He said he does not treat children.

"Chelation unfortunately is a wide range of treatments, not just a single therapy. The effectiveness of any one therapy can be widely varied, and also the safety of any one therapy can be widely varied," Collin said. "It's quite possible that what I find to be relatively safe in adults would be quite a different process in a 5-year-old.

"EDTA has been used in treating adults for 50 years. Maybe the chelation substance at hand was not just as well studied for pediatric use and, therefore, had the risk of creating a problem for a 5-year-old."